A bass drum makes an excellent billboard to advertise the name of a band. It is the first thing I look for in an old photograph and this drum made it easy to identify the US Navy Band of the USS Minneapolis. The Nineteen musicians arranged on the ship's deck are wearing the older style US Navy blue uniforms and flat caps. Seated in the center behind the drum is their bandmaster wearing a bow tie. Note the small E-flat clarinet on the right which was the typical high piccolo instrument of military bands, while on the left is a bandsman with the standard B-flat clarinet..
|USS Minneapolis C-13|
The USS Minneapolis belonged to a class of battleship called a protected cruiser. She was 413 ft (126 m) long with a displacement of 7,375 long tons and had a crew of 477 officers and enlisted men. Built in Philadelphia and commissioned in 1894 the Minneapolis was part of a major expansion of the US Naval fleet in the 1880s. During the Spanish-American war of 1898 the ship initially was part of the North Atlantic squadron and later moved to duty in the Caribbean. Almost immediately after the war ended in August 1898, the Minneapolis was decommissioned. Like many battleships of this era that had coal fired steam engines, the ship was periodically removed from duty until needed. Prior to World War One her last service finished in 1906.
| USS Minneapolis C-13 in 1898|
In 1917 when the United States entered the war, the Minneapolis returned to active duty in July and made 4 voyages across the Atlantic escorting American convoys taking troops and military supplies to Europe. After the war in 1919, the Minneapolis was reassigned to San Diego, California as flagship of the Pacific fleet. In 1921 she was decommissioned for the last time and sold for scrap. Her mast and ship's bell were saved and are now displayed near Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.
The postcard of the band was part of a collection of several photos from an estate sale. This postcard shows the Chief Petty Officers of the USS Minneapolis, and I believe the bandmaster may be in this photo too. It is difficult to tell with certainty but I think he is the man standing third from the right.
The back of the card has a penciled note which might be from the dealer, but there is a nice rubber stamp from the navy photographer of USS Minneapolis C-13 that makes it an official navy photo. In July 1920, the navy reclassified the ship as the CA-17. Since such a change would surely have required the photographer to get a new stamp, any postcards with C-13 must be from before that date.
Also in the estate sale was this photo of the USS Minneapolis band on parade. Here they wear the familiar white sailors caps, blue uniforms and white leggings. The bandmaster leads them from the front with a long drum major's baton.
The back of the postcard has the same rubber stamp mark of the ship's photographer and a note that the parade was in San Francisco. Though that is certainly possible, the buildings seem more like Southern California so I suspect it might be in San Diego where the ship was based. Since the Minneapolis as the C-13 did not get to the Pacific until 1919, all three photos are likely from that year, though the first two could be earlier from 1917-18.
What makes the Minneapolis band's photo most interesting is a detail that could easily be overlooked. Standing on the left is a trombonist whose complexion is not the same as the other bandsmen. The US Navy, like most of the nation, was very segregated in this era, so it is very unusual to see a man of color in a band like this. I believe he is Filipino as the Philippines were acquired in 1898 by the United States in the settlement of the Spanish-American War. From 1900 to 1935 the islands had a troubled history under U.S. civil administration. In 1901 the US Navy was ordered to add 500 Filipinos to the force, most serving as ship stewards. But a few talented musicians were accepted into the navy bands as seen in my 2013 story on a Filipino Navy Band from 1912.
If we look at a closeup we can see the same man marching in the parade too.
A few rows back is another bandsman with darker skin. Because his instrument is tucked under his arm we can't determine what he played. Could he be Filipino as well? He might be African-American but this would be very unusual for 1919. In any case the postcards show a rare element of diversity that was not common to American society at this time.
One last bit of history on the USS Minneapolis I found particularly unsettling especially when considering the date of these photos. In a very long list of non-combat casualties compiled by the Department of the Navy, a record of the ship appears for January 1918 when the USS Minneapolis reported 21 cases of influenza while it was in the Philadelphia navy yard. It was the first occurrence on a navy ship and it quickly spread throughout the fleet claiming the lives of over 5,000 sailors before it abated in 1920. Millions of people perished from the great influenza pandemic, far more than were killed during the war years. The actual origin of this deadly virus is still debated in medical science though the source is now believed to be China. But certainly the transmission of this illness was exacerbated by the use of military ships for transporting hundreds of thousands servicemen back and forth across the Atlantic.
This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sailors are often on parade.
where sailors are often on parade.